When Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, claimed big business and the unions do deals on industrial relations, he had a vocal ally in the Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson.
During his National Press Club speech, Mr. Strong inferred collusion on industrial rules that favoured big businesses, giving them concessions unavailable to small businesses.
For example, Mr. Strong claimed Coles and Woolworths negotiated lower weekend penalty rates with the main retail union, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, but smaller retailers haven’t been able to negotiate the same penalty rates. This leaves many small businesses forced to close their doors on weekends and public holidays because they cannot compete.
Minister Bruce Billson agreed, saying industry relations rules are written by a “club” of big business, major industry groups and the union movement; and that workplace reform must consider the interests of smaller businesses.
This is such an important statement. As at June 2014, there were 2,100,162 actively trading businesses in Australia, an increase in 20,496 businesses since June 2013. The vast majority (97 per cent!) of them were small businesses.
So the majority of businesses in Australia may be working within an industrial framework that doesn’t suit their needs? It makes you wonder, What opportunities for growth could exist if industrial rules better reflected the small business needs?
The Productivity Commission is currently reviewing Australia’s industrial relations framework and was specifically tasked with considering the needs of small business. They are due to release the draft report next month.
The Small Business ministry will be watching with interest to see if the Productivity Commission recommends a new industrial award for small businesses (less than 20 employees) with simplified rates of pay and conditions, as one potential solution.